Where do we go from here? - By Kuldip Nayar Back   Home  
Certain problems get more tangled with the passage of time. Both Kashmir and Nagaland would have been easier to sort out if they had not been allowed to accumulate the dust of convenience and callousness.

India could have won the plebiscite it promised to the people of Jammu and Kashmir until 1952 when Sheikh Abdullah, who had helped integrate the state with the Indian Union, was detained without trial. Phizo in Nagaland was more tractable in 1950 after the Shillong accord that promised autonomy to the Nagas. Both the Sheikh and Phizo felt betrayed when New Delhi tried to sell the illusion of power.

India has been impaled on the horns of a dilemma for a long time. It cannot let Kashmir go even though the links are more legal than emotional. After repeatedly saying that the state is part of the motherland, it has to reckon with public repercussions. Nagaland's case is still more curious. It was never part of India during the British period. Having declared it as a state in the Union, how can New Delhi allow it to break away or justify even something closer?

Generations after generation, boys and girls have grown up in India with the belief that Kashmir and Nagaland are integral parts of the country. No government at the centre has ever conveyed any other impression. Nor has any political party had the conviction or courage to say anything different. People are convinced that all the territory - from Kashmir to Kohima - is India's and anyone raising a doubt about it is a "traitor."

Consequently, the attempts to solve the two problems have been limited to certain parameters: how to reconcile the demands of sovereignty by certain sections with a status within the Union. The demand for secession or independence has been derided, never put on the agenda.

Over the years, national sentiments on both Kashmir and Nagaland have got so hardened and so entrenched that any concession suggesting a status beyond India is sure to be considered a 'betrayal.' All governments and political parties know that. True, there is a consensus not to disturb the status quo, if nothing else is possible. The stationing of the armed forces in the two states - Kashmir and Nagaland - have strengthened the feeling that those challenging the integration have to be crushed forcibly. Any eruption is looked upon as the violation of India's security. Different army commanders posted in the two states have said that the solution to the situation is political, not military.

New Delhi tends to agree with that. But what does it offer to the militants in Kashmir or Nagaland, which satisfies them without impinging on the country's unity? No out-of- the-way solution, much less radical, seems possible because the nation has never been presented with the alternatives. Nor is it prepared for them.

India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who did probably realize the problems the country would face in Kashmir, sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan to meet General Ayub Khan. It was a bit late because by then the Indian opinion had hardened, particularly when Nehru had himself said that Kashmir was part of "our motherland."

It is difficult to believe what Ayub's close aide, Altaf Gauhar, has written about the meeting between the Sheikh and Ayub. Gauhar has said in his book, Ayub Khan, what the Sheikh told Ayub: "The future of Kashmir lies with Pakistan." There was nothing in the Sheikh's activities after his return from Islamabad in 1964 to indicate that he could have said so. In fact, after sweeping the polls in Kashmir in 1977, he said that the vote in his favour was "for accession to India."

The Nagaland problem too saw some activity. The then Assam chief minister, Chaliha, headed a team to talk to the Nagas. An official ceasefire was announced and a white flag was flown over a place to underline that the two sides would begin talks in an atmosphere of peace. But nothing concrete took shape.

As days went by, Nehru transferred to the home ministry the charge of Nagaland, which was looked after by the Ministry of external affairs. This ended even the semblance of belief that Nagaland was not a domestic problem. Phizo, desperate and disillusioned, went to London, sensing that New Delhi was not yet prepared for political negotiations. The nation could not suspect anything. The Nagas participated in elections for parliament and the state assembly - the voting was always above 50 per cent. The violence in the area was considered part of hazards a country faced on its frontiers.

Kashmir at least showed its resentment over the status quo through the boycott of polls. Since the major part of militancy was from across the border, the Kashmir movement, at one time mostly indigenous, lost its ilan and sympathisers in India. Human rights activists did point out the excesses committed by the security forces. But the rightists pounced upon them as if what they were doing was anti-national.

Fortunately, the government has again begun probing to find out if there is a possibility to move further in Kashmir and Nagaland. It has sounded influential segments within the Nagas to know whether a settlement of sorts is possible. But New Delhi's predicament is that it is not sure what it can ladle out to meet the expectations, which are high both within Kashmir and Nagaland.

The Hurriyat in Kashmir appears once again determined to boycott the election. Its argument is that its participation would harm its cause of independence because as candidates, they would have to affirm their loyalty to India's unity and integrity. The Hurriyat leaders are unnecessarily stretching the point. If they could give a similar affirmation while applying for their passports, why not do so while contesting elections? Ayub rejected the idea of condominium or confederation between India, Pakistan and Kashmir when the Sheikh mentioned it to him. Ayub believed that all federations came to be dominated by the major parties.

New Delhi can sit back and wait for the contradictions to appear within the Hurriyat and the Nagas. It can even encourage them but it will be a shoddy spectacle, which may tangle the problem still more. Perhaps one way can be to hold free and fair elections in both the states in the presence of human rights activists from within India. Some groups in Kashmir and Nagaland may boycott but New Delhi's declaration that it would discuss the future with the elected representatives will go a long way to persuade many.

As far as Nagaland is concerned, a close associate of Phizo, Khodao-Yanthan, told me in London in 1990, when I was India's High Commissioner there, that Phizo had wanted to settle the Nagaland question with the Indian leaders and he wanted to advise his friends to give up violence and seek solution within the framework of India. I passed on the information to New Delhi. Why this point is not on the agenda of talks with the Nagas is something I really do not understand. Why has it not been included?

Still it looks as if it may be possible to bring round political parties to give Kashmir - as well as Nagaland - a special status. They will have complete autonomy except in the areas of defence, foreign affairs and communications, as was the Kashmir Maharaja's original instrument of accession. But this can be the final solution, not the starting point. The nation is in no mood to accept anything else. Against the backdrop of the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism, it may be tough going for the Muslim- majority Kashmir and the Christian-majority Nagaland.
Published in Pakistani Newspaper Dawn. The writer is a freelance columnist based in New Delhi.